When Rex Hudler first came to Kansas City as TV color commentator for the Royals in 2012, I couldn’t stand him.
Over the top. Mangled the King’s English. Came across like a jackhammer.
As time went by, however — and I think I speak for many others — I came to like him.
And now I love him.
His enthusiasm is infectious and irresistible. His belief in last year’s Royals and this year’s Royals is impenetrable. Instead of grating, his garbled grammar has become part of his appeal. Plus, of course, being a former major league infielder, he knows the game and consistently makes the game more enjoyable for the listeners by pointing out nuances most of us would otherwise miss.
With Fox Sports taking control of the series on the TV front, Rex and his announcing partner Ryan Lefebvre have been cut out of in-game duties.
Fortunately, however, he and his post-game partner Joel Goldberg are still holding forth on the FSKC Boulevard Royals Live show from Lot A outside Kauffman Stadium.
…Mercifully, compared to Tuesday’s 14-inning marathon, last night’s game went the conventional nine innings and took slightly less than three hours. So, it was no trouble staying up to watch the post game show…And, I’ll tell you, it was one for the ages.
Rex was at his intense, superlative-laced best. Wearing a winter, waist-length coat and gripping (as always) a baseball in his left hand, he gushed like a waterfall, praising the Royals’ brilliance in the game they had just won 7-1 and needling the New York Mets for the torment they had just experienced and the torment that Rex saw on the horizon.
…Relatively early in the broadcast, Rex talks about the way the Royals manhandled Mets’ starting pitcher Jacob deGrom — he of the wild, curly hair that springs from under his cap like an electrified bird’s nest. He says…
“I love tonight, the way they were squaring de Grom up…They were all up the middle, Joel, and I loved it. You’re hitting the ball when you know you’re going right back up the middle…That’s where the money is. Believe it!”
At that point, the viewers are seeing a replay of a Royals runner crossing home plate, with de Grom backing up the catcher. Transitioning to retrospective commentary, Rex shouts at de Grom…
“Go ahead and back up home…and, by the way, get a haircut!”
A few minutes later, when Joel is talking about Royals’ winning pitcher Johnny Cueto — he of the peroxide-tinted dreadlocks — Joel points out that Rex has not called for Johnny to get a haircut. Rex splutters…
“Oh, no. No, no, no! He’s got to keep those locks on; it really looks good.”
Another reference to personal grooming touches off a second Rex run of the mouth.
When a photo flashes on the screen of former Royals center fielder Willie Wilson, Joel points out that in the photo Willie has a mustache. Rex says…
“You know what? That looks really good on him. I couldn’t get away with it, but he can. Willie Wilson’s a b-a-a-a-a-a-d man!”
Rex then leapfrogs to a key point about the Royals, saying…
“But I’m gonna tell you what. It don’t matter…Hair or no hair, these guys are talented; they’ve got experience now, Joel. And look, when you put those two together…”
In mid-sentence, Rex pauses and starts looking around, back and forth, toward the clutch of cheering fans gathered behind the stage where Rex and Joel are seated.
Then Rex finishes his thought —
“…hopefully a World Series title. It’s going to be a beautiful thing!”
Ever the perfect straight man, Joel says, “What are you looking at?” And Rex, almost elevating from his chair, turns directly toward the fans and says…
“I can’t help it! I’m looking around for the people. Come on, people, let’s go!”
A few quick, vigorous pumps of the right fist polish off the exhortation.
Joel then calmly turns to the camera and says: “There’s our segue, whether it works or not, into the next topic.”
Which is the pitching match-up for Game 3, Friday in New York, between Yordano Ventura and Noah Syndergaard.
Laying the groundwork for another oratorical flourish from his partner, Joel notes that each pitcher has an interesting nickname: Ventura is known as “Ace” and Syndergaard as “Thor” — after the hammer-wielding god in Norse mythology.
“So, it will be Ace versus Thor,” Joel states in a foreboding tone.
Rex drops his jaw and his eyes pop open in a feigned look of fear, but he quickly recovers and says…
“The Royals continue to hit like they’re hitting that hard fastball that Thor throws, they could…show Thor…the door!”
Just before sign-off, Rex contributes a final, steely-eyed assessment…
“Believe it. It’s going to be happening right there in the Big Apple! It’s gonna be fun! He’s (Thor) a good pitcher, but so are the other two we’ve faced!”
…Good night, Rex. Thanks for being you. See you Friday from the Big Apple.